ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Sarah Palin is back in the presidential race. Today she endorsed Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump is locked in a tight race with Ted Cruz in Iowa where the caucuses are now less than two weeks away. NPR's Don Gonyea is in Ames, Iowa, where Trump is holding a rally this evening. Donald Trump had been touting a big announcement, and now we know, Don, it's Sarah Palin. How big of a surprise is that endorsement?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, it is not a huge surprise. What is key, though, is that this really came out of the blue. People have not been talking about Sarah Palin in a big way in this presidential campaign. It's almost like she's not even been on the periphery. She's been really off the stage. A year ago in Iowa, at, like, one of the very first kickoff events, she showed up. She indicated at the time that she was thinking of running, but then she give a very rambling speech. And since then not much - until, Robert, until in the last day, literally, we started to get rumors, a lot of chatter, a lot of talk on Twitter that Trump's big announcement that he was talking about was going to be her endorsement.
We found out that there was a flight plan filed for a private jet from Anchorage to Des Moines. Not a lot of flights make that particular route (laughter) on any given day. And then today Palin's daughter, Bristol, said, hey, I don't know what my mom's going to do but I hope she does endorse Trump. And Bristol Palin then took an opportunity to say some very critical things about Ted Cruz - of course, Trump's big rival right now.
SIEGEL: But does an endorsement of Donald Trump by Sarah Palin make all that much sense? Her daughter's swipe aside, Sarah Palin has had a very good relationship with Ted Cruz in the past.
GONYEA: And she has said very, very positive things about Ted Cruz. In fact, the Trump campaign is kind of pointing those things out today as the Cruz campaign criticizes Palin and says this kind of diminishes her. But, look, she and Trump have had kind of had a mutual admiration society going for quite some time. How much her endorsement will mean, it's really hard to say. You know, the Tea Party faction of the party does still love her. Trump is battling Cruz for that faction. It is a crowded field. But give a listen to what Palin said on Fox News on the "Greta Van Susteren" show - this was a few months back - and we'll get a sense of what we might hear tonight.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ON THE RECORD WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN")
SARAH PALIN: I am so happy that he is running. Here's the deal, Greta. He - I think with Donald Trump, he's the best thing to happen to the permanent political class since, oh, I guess the beauty of the Tea Party genuine movement rose up and shined light on crony capitalism and then pulled the rug right out from under status quo politicians who just, you know, kind of embrace that permanent political class.
GONYEA: So there's Palin talking about Trump. You want to hear Trump talking about Sarah Palin? This is from her own radio program. He was asked by a guest host if he would think of putting Sarah Palin in the cabinet. Here's how he responded.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "SARAH PALIN RADIO")
DONALD TRUMP: I'd love that 'cause she really is somebody that knows what's happening.
GONYEA: So there we are.
SIEGEL: Don, also today Iowa Governor Terry Branstad came out criticizing Ted Cruz for his opposition to ethanol, which is a big deal in Iowa - a corn company - corn country. What's this all about?
GONYEA: He's certainly a very important figure in this state. What he says does mean something. In the past, Ted Cruz has been against ethanol subsidies. As the caucuses have approached, suddenly he's not so against them, he's saying maybe they should be phased out over five years. Branstad's not buying it, and Branstad says that would be dangerous for Iowa.
SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Ames, Iowa, where he is covering the Donald Trump campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.